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Meet the Father-Daughter Duo Behind RTIA Show

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

RTIA Show founders, father-daughter team Kevin O’Keefe and Briana Dolan, sit down (with unofficial intern Shane Dolan, 14 months) to talk about the show, their partnership (only some grievances were aired) and the vision for the wider Reno Creative Movement.

B: It’s still sort of surreal to me that we are business partners.

K: Surreal?

B: Don’t you think it’s a bit …surprising?

K: I think from the beginning it has always felt oddly fated, like it was meant to be. The way that it formed and shaped, there was an inevitability to it that was quite amazing.

Well there was a time, actually, now that I’m thinking about it, that I was openly talking about wanting to somehow land in what I vaguely called the ‘event business’ and that it would be great to be ultimately partnered with you on that path. It was such a fuzzy thought process, though, with no real starting point. This was back in Connecticut, pre-kids, so at least 6 years ago. And now here we are- wild.

It was a very interesting process. It went from complete stillness mid-pandemic, where there wasn’t anything going on, and then naturally

spending more time on art. Initially I was just looking to make a website -just as something to do.

Kevin with grandchildren (from Left) Casey, Shane, and Nora

…You wanted me to make you a website- for your art.

Right. But then when we were looking and seeing what was happening in the environment with art, it was actually quite a surprise to see what was happening here in Reno. The Reno Fine Arts Collective came together so quickly - and it was accepted so completely. Then to move onto the gallery and to develop a community that was very cohesive and happy to come together like that. I’ve built many businesses, but this was one that kind of built itself. Normally to create a business, you have to drag it, kicking and screaming, up. This just came forward very naturally. And it morphed directly from the gallery to the show. In and a way it was almost seamless.

When you and Mom moved to Reno, were you in retirement mode, or what were you thinking when it came to what to do next?

I think at the time I didn’t really consider what I would be doing next. We had gone through a period of a couple of years of such oddness in the world. I wasn’t really thinking about anything except getting away from Connecticut and New York and into a place that geographically was clearly much more attractive. I thought it was a nice change. But in terms of working, I never considered another career or what I would be doing here.

Briana & Kevin at the Cordillera International Film Festival

What is more surprising to you, living in Reno or doing what we’re doing?

I think what’s most surprising is that we are doing what we’re doing. Though for many years I thought of Reno in the same way that the rest of the world did – and does- as a place to be avoided.

It’s an uphill battle with the various stigmas – being ‘next to Vegas’, a sad secondary gambling town and the Reno 911 fiasco, but I do think it’s changing at a rapid rate now. Even growing up in California, I had no idea where Reno was until Mike and I drove here from San Diego. That was the longest road trip I had taken to date – you and Mom weren’t big on road trips - and until we were over the hill, there were many hours there that I was convinced I would really not like what I was about to see. But it surprised me then, and continues to surprise me now.

[Shane interrupts conversation for the fifth time]

We are partners, but the partnership has sort of taken root into the wider family unit. Everyone has had a direct hand in some piece of this effort- which is great, because for one, it’s nice to be supported, but also it means a lot to have such a strong foundation.

Yes it is very nice.

Also, when we were starting the Reno Fine Arts Collective, I had just found out I was pregnant with Shane- remember? His life is especially integrated with the building of this business. I had such an outpouring of love and support from all the artists of the Collective, too. They really helped me get through the tougher months of pregnancy. It’s a network I never expected to have, but more importantly, that I never expected to need. Reno people are, on a whole, very welcoming and kind, but the artist community is especially one to be cherished. For two introverts- we’ve made some great friends in this process.

Very much so- and then over time, the larger community, the business community- EDAWN, the mayor of the city, the city council, the Nevada Council for the Arts- as people became aware of what we were doing, there was universal support for it.

Right, and I think the biggest leap now, along with growing the show, is being able to create this bridge between Reno’s art community and the wider international art world- and to do it in a digestible way. Where it’s not just about a talented, but isolated, community – it’s about finding and building on the connections that will ultimately lift Reno Tahoe to a nationally recognized center for art and culture, which has been our goal and our vision with the Reno Creative Movement from the beginning.

The ability to expose the current residents of the region, and those that are incoming, to the whole reservoir of international gallerists and sculpture- I think it is really enriching for them. Especially with all the changes we’re seeing in the country, and particularly the west coast, the timing couldn’t be better.

Well also there is a general shift in the art world. Being more attuned to the international art news has been one of the most interesting pieces of this for me. It’s not a crossroads, per se, but it’s a period of time now that will most certainly be studied in art history classes to come. Between the aftermath of Covid to the digital world, NFTs… it’s a great time to take action and impart lasting change.

Completely. I think people are viewing the world very much as an ‘in-motion, non-static’ environment. For the longest time, the art world was fixed. There were certain places that had events that were always accepted and that’s where you went and certain galleries were accepted and so that’s where you bought certain types of art… all of that is dramatically changing. It’s very fluid. So it is an exciting time. It’s an exciting time for independent artists, for new galleries.

I think that this new generation of high net worth individuals in their 30s and 40s are looking at art very differently.

Kevin O'Keefe hanging art at the Virgil in Reno, Nevada for the Reno Tahoe International Art Show
Kevin and Shane hanging art by Alexx Mayes at The Virgil in Reno

And different types of art too. Things like photography and sculpture for example. The renewed or different attention to these mediums at this time is really interesting. It says a lot about how people are interacting with art. As a recording and an interpretation of history and truth, photography demands to be interacted with. Sculpture by its nature of taking up space demands the interaction as well. Portraiture, which we highlighted in the Talks at this first show, came into new focus as a result of covid related introspection. It has a similar effect staring back at the viewer.

There is a movement for younger people who really want to own things that are real. Something that is unique and produced by an individual.

Collecting on its own is also a great way to discover yourself. Recognizing pieces of art that truly move you is fascinating self-discovery and it really contributes to pride in collection- whether it’s a collection of one piece or a hundred. Even originals under the $300 mark… we are sitting under a piece I bought from a member of the Collective and every day I look at is new. It’s a living entity that enriches our space and our lives. I hope that what we are seeing with collectors- new and seasoned- will continue to develop in this trend.

The whole concept of owning an original that appeals to you is definitely growing in vogue. We saw that at the show. So many people – and young people- left with art, recognizing the value of owning an original. I think many people wrongly assume that originals of any value are unaffordable, but that just isn’t true. And regardless of price, original art or bespoke furniture, can endure through generations.

With the handcrafted furniture, you see it and know it will be appreciated for generations.

Another thing that is important, particularly for Americans, is the opportunity to own original art created by Native Americans. Those cultures, especially from the 9 major western tribes- it’s beautiful art from a diminishing population of pure-blooded Native Americans that really cherish their histories. Any American who wants to be part of that heritage of where this place came from should really be looking at that art. Some of the most beautiful traditional Native American jewelry- if you’re not buying it, you should at least be looking at it. And in the next couple of years we’ll see to it that this show has one of the largest presentations of contemporary Native American art anywhere in the country that can be found outside of a museum. That is something we’re going to spend some time on, to make it possible for these artists to participate in the show and to connect with people that would like to take part in the generational history of their families.

The tradition that is incorporated into some of the First Nation art is something to be celebrated on its own. It’s a fascinating and complex history that cannot be forgotten.

It’s an important feature.

Another defining element of the show is the Sculpture piece, which many of the First nations exhibitors were involved with this past year too.

The ability to bring in major sculptures from Burning Man 2023, 30 or 40 pieces that will weigh many thousands of pounds but are very unique pieces that architects, high net worth individuals or cities can come and purchase– it’s a key piece of the show. And really this is only place they are going to be able to see them and purchase them in this way.

There are a lot of people that cannot go to Burning Man for whatever reason, or would prefer not to shop for art there.

Well and we can curate what’s best from Burning Man and present in this environment, which is unique to Reno in the sense that we don’t have the same complications that typically come with similar buildings in bigger cities. And aside from that, what is unique about this entire show is that – and no other show in the world does it this way- now we have a huge composition of curated local artists, combined with other independent artists coming in from around the world, mixed with galleries from all over the United States and the world, and then major sculpture and an enormous presentation of Burning Man pieces.

We also have this added layer that the show is very unique to Reno Tahoe- the local musicians, the Cordillera Film Festival, hospitality and retail partners- I think people are sort of blown away (as we are) about this region.

Reno… who knew?

Such an appropriate slogan.

Ok, so in conclusion… what would you say is the most annoying thing about working with me?

(long, calculated pause…)

Um…I think that one of your best qualities is your attention to detail and timeliness of things. You are constantly reminding to review and approve things… which can sometimes be an irritant.

Ha! Yes, doing work on time can be annoying… Well you already know my pet peeve working with you, then… you constantly ignore my reminders! But aside from that I have enjoyed working together...I feel like we have a good balance of things- and it’s been fun!

It has been fun.

Lots to come, still.

It’s a very good thing for Reno. And I think it’s also quite gratifying to be able to see us putting together an event that is so completely accepted by the political and economic development executives in the region. The universal support for the concept is great to see. We also know that as we change the way that we are looking at ourselves, from the old Reno to the new Reno as an arts and culture center – and as the rest of the country changes the way they look at us, it will make this place so much more to be proud of. We are happy to be part of that.

I’ve never felt so at home in any city we’ve lived in. Which is odd after being born on the east coast, growing up in Southern California, and coming most recently from CT and New York. But it’s true for whatever reason and I’m proud to part of the effort to lift this region up. It seems natural.

And it is.


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